One of the most popular and well known scientific figures of our time, Dame Jane Goodall has had an illustrious scientific career that stretches almost six decades. A renowned primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist, she is the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and has spent her life working towards conservation efforts across the world.
Kicking off her scientific career in 1960 at the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania as a researcher studying the behaviours of chimpanzees within their communities. She quickly rose to fame after she observed a range of characteristics and interactions amongst these communities that had until then been earmarked as purely human behaviour. Goodall would remark that:
“It isn’t only human beings who have personality, who are capable of rational thought [and] emotions like joy and sorrow. The close, supportive, affectionate bonds that develop between family members and other individuals within a community, which can persist throughout a life span of more than 50 years.”
Jane Goodall in conversation with Silver Donald Cameron; June 24, 2014. source; wikimedia.org; author; The Green Interview
Through her research, Jane Goodall challenged several long-standing scientific beliefs, including the notion that only humans were able to develop and use tools. During her time in Tanzania, she was able to prove that chimpanzees were using tools or improving their own techniques to acquire food, whilst also witnessing complex community interactions that resembled our own. One of the more startling observations she made was the amount of aggression and violence within the communities, with shows of dominance, deliberate killings and cannibalism all recorded in her notes:
“During the first ten years of the study I had believed […] that the Gombe chimpanzees were, for the most part, rather nicer than human beings. […] Then suddenly we found that chimpanzees could be brutal—that they, like us, had a darker side to their nature.”
Her work with chimpanzees culminated in a range of scientific accolades, with her memoir Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe receiving critical acclaim for drawing together the similarities between both humans and chimpanzees. From there Goodall founded two initiatives, the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots and Shoots program, which aim to encourage conservation. She also became a fervent activist, campaigning for causes such as Advocates for Animals, Voiceless and Population Matters.
In recent years, she has continued to advocate for animals, penning letters to companies and institutions who commit or facilitate the mistreatment of animals, such as Air France and the National Institutes of Health in 2014, and the UK government in 2015.